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Midnight

From the woods where Rita was making camp, the land fell down and away into a completely different world. It was dark enough for sleep where she sat, but below it caught the lights of the nearby power plant. The stinging artificial daylight made a halo around the ears of her companion, Amador. Between the electricity of his guard-dog attention and the lights below, no one could possibly sneak up on her.

Rita sighed out the weight of the day as she watched her friend. Her unwashed, stringy black hair fell on her light brown skin in the same colors as his fur. They were both exhausted and ready to bed down.

It was impossible for Rita to make a good camp before about midnight no matter how tired she was. There was too much traffic across the fields and too many people coming back from scoring whatever they could. They had to all pass out before the woods became still and sleepy. Besides, the perfect lay of the light wasn’t obvious until the glow from stores and gas stations were turned out on West Seventh. But the glow around Amador gave her a warm feeling of security until it was time to bed down. She could take care of the rest of the details as they came to her.

“Amador, come here!” Rita called to him, and as he circled over she lay her head on the soft part of her pack that made a decent pillow. He paced out the routine and lay his head on the thin blanket over her stomach, always looking out to the lights. “Good boy,” Rita almost whispered as she stroked behind his ears and under his rounded jowls. “Mi perro bueno”.

The hum of the world around them was as soft as the chilling air. Rita learned to ignore both, but Amador slept with his ears up and canine radar on. The trees above them shielded them from the worst intrusions, but he was always ready. A dog can never be too careful.

Suddenly, Amador sat up again. His back legs were tense and ready to pounce, and his growl shook the earth with tension. Rita grabbed his leash to hold him back, but sat up ready to let him go. Someone was coming. Something snapped under hard shoes in the field of daylight below.

“Steady, Amador.” Rita never wanted to encourage nor discourage his guardian routine. He did wake her up a lot for stupid things like stumbling drunks, but she realized that this helped keep them far away. Making his presence known was enough. Unlike Rita, who hid invisible to the world, Amador was a force who was always there, always ready. She held onto him for what seemed like several minutes before it appeared.

The halo of light rose from below, and slowly took the shape of a man. It was as if he were Jesus, transfigured just for Rita. Amador was not impressed, and barked sharply and incessantly. Rita pulled him back, “Shush! Sit, boy!” as she realized this man was slow and unthreatening. Amador obeyed and became quiet, but wary.

The blurred figure of light stopped with a jolt of adrenaline fear. “Hello?” he called out in the soft settling air, but neither human nor dog responded. He knew they’d need more than that, so he continued as his throbbing pulse settled.

“Hello! My name is Jim O’Donnell, from Catholic Outreach. I’m just hear to check … and see if anyone needs anything.” A few heartbeats later, he raised his right arm. “I have some sandwiches if you’re hungry.” The tension was as bright as the light behind him, but he stood there waiting for it to settle.

“I don’t need nothing,” Rita finally called back.
“You’re sure? I’m just hear to check on everyone.”
“No, I’m fine.” Rita was hoping he’d leave. “Thanks.”
“That’s a dog with you?” Jim stated the obvious.
“Yeah, he protects me.”
“Would you mind if I got out of the light a moment? It is blinding.”
“Sure, come around on your left.”
“Thanks. You sure you’re allright up here?”

Rita stroked Amador, and finally got him to lie on her lap as she sat up. These social service guys were all the same. They never left until they could actually see you and be sure you were not in some danger. Usually, the sight of Amador showed that she was protected, and also answered the question as to why she wasn’t in the shelter. Normally, it was drink or drugs that kept people out of the shelters, but in her case it was Amador. No dogs were allowed. Unlike the smack addicts who thought their needles and spoons protected them from the world, Amador really did. But the shelter didn’t seem to understand the difference. Fuck ‘em.

Jim had reached the darker corner of the woods, and stood there a moment to let his eyes adjust. Rita thought he was awfully professional, knowing better than to walk up quickly when he couldn’t see what he was getting into. He might be as annoying as the rest, but he at least seemed to be respectful, she figured. Perhaps he was just scared of Amador.

“So, you have a dog. What’s his name?”
“Amador. He protects me out here.”
“So you can take care of yourself? Or each other?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Sure you don’t need a bite?”
“Yeah, I guess I’ll take whatever you got. Ah, thanks.”
“Turkey OK?”
“Sure.’

Jim reached in and pulled out a sandwich on wheat bread. It did look good to Rita, who was interested in eating more to show Jim that she could keep food down than anything else. Rita took it, unwrapped the plastic slowly while saying, “Thanks.” The tore the corner off and gave it to Amador, who inhaled it like a wolf. She then ate the rest of it while Jim looked around.

“Nice setup you have. Good protection from everything.”
“Mmm. Et worg fo …” Rita swallowed. “It works for me, and for Amador.”
“He’s with you always?”
“Yeah, I could use him out here.”
“We could find a shelter that would allow him, if you’d like.” Jim got the picture fast.
“I’m OK, really.”
“Why are you out here, by yourself?”

He wasn’t going away any time soon. Rita saw that Jim was worried about her now that he knew her story. Or, really, part of her story. He was going to sit there until he had a good answer to his question, so she might as well give him one.

“I’ve always moved around. My family did, we all did.”
“Where is your family now?”
“Who the Hell knows? Wisconsin, Iowa, I dunno.”
“Wherever there’s work?”
“Yeah. Or maybe my Dad got deported for trying to organize a Union again, I dunno.”
“You didn’t like that life?”

Rita stopped. A good story was the price she had to pay for any kindness. That was cheap for her; she had a lot of stories. But some of them were worth a lot more than others.

“I ain’t nobody’s slave, out on my own. I can make nothin’ just wanderin’ around the same as I can breakin’ my back.”
“Gotcha. Well, you know where we are, right?”
“Yeah, I know the drill. That brick building on 6th.”
“You need anything, don’t be afraid to ask, OK?”
“I will.”
“Take care, Rita. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.”

As Jim got up to continue around to where some of the drunks were usually passed out, Rita felt something strange in her guts. She gave the last piece of the sandwich to Amador, who ate it more carefully than before. This Jim guy, he even remembered her name. He seemed to know what was going on after even the smallest gesture on her part.

The feeling that she was being gauged or judged sat heavily around Rita as the cool air began to thicken with dew. It wasn’t until Amador lay his head down again on her stomach that she remembered her routine, and how close to sleep she was before this all started.

Rita’s head fell slowly toward the soft part of her pack in a long sweeping motion. Carefully, she pulled the blanket out from under Amador’s long nose and over her arms. He quickly relaxed again, or was as relaxed as he ever got, once she was done adjusting. In a moment, the sight of his ears up and ready and the pulsing heat of his breath across her chest were the only things in her mind. Rita gradually fell into a deep and unconditional sleep.

When she awoke, it was already well past dawn. The trees that shielded her from the thickest of the dew gave her an extra hour or so of sleep as well. Her first sight of the day was Amador, who hadn’t moved a bit all night long. When she carefully stretched her shoulders, he sat up and looked at her. They were each other’s world, completely and confidently. When Rita looked up at Amador each morning, she knew she was secure.

When she got up, Amador lifted his head quickly. “It’s OK, boy, time to go,” gently cooed out of Rita, and she rose to stretch more thoroughly. Amador did the same, stretching front to back in the delicate canine form of yoga. They then wandered together into the woods a short way to take a pee for the morning. Amador was indiscrete as he marked their territory, but Rita had to watch for perverts. But no one was stirring around as she squatted, and Amador was content to mark just far enough away that he certainly could attack anyone coming at them.

“C’mon, vamonos!” Rita called, and Amador retuned to the small camp to await further instruction. With a quick and deliberate motion the blanket was folded, stuffed into the pack, and their world became mobile again. Their world started with light and thought and a need to empty their bladders, but soon turned to being hungry. Hunger meant movement and the need to make way back to civilization. These woods gave the protection of invisibility, but it was only a short walk to places where a decent bite to eat could be found.

Before flinging on her pack, Rita fumbled with a side pocket. She quickly found her dark sunglasses, and put them on. They might have been handy in the harsh light of the electric lights than the gentle after-dawn, but now they were even more useful. A leash in the same pocket clipped on Amador as if it was necessary, and the pack rolled onto her back. “Let’s go, Amador”. They were off.

It was a short walk down the hill and onto the city street lined with houses. Rita tried hard not to notice the yards and the cars and the toys, but the sight always stayed with her. They were only collections of objects, arranged carelessly and slightly slacked. The sight of it always stirred her empty guts with a feeling of both longing and a deep sense than none of it was somehow real. It certainly wasn’t real to her. She peered briefly under her shades to see Amador panting slightly and the unreality of the moment slipped away. A puddle off to the side, in the gutter, was what was needed. Amador drank heavily, preparing himself for a long day. “Good boy” was all that Rita could think to say.

In a moment, they were on West Seventh, and turned towards Downtown. The street was noisy and full of cars, but the unlikely pair practiced being invisible as they made their way up the sidewalk. Rita kept a short leash, and they started to practice the delicate art of pretending that the world was as invisible to them as they were to it. At each corner, she fumbled slightly and felt for the curb with her foot. Amador would sit if there were cars on the many angled cross streets, and lead her when they were clear. It was a team effort, ignoring the finer points of life in favor of their own world.

When they reached Goodrich, it was time to cross the sea of paving that ran heavy with cars. Amador was essential now, and took his job as seriously as being a guard. He sat at the right spot, and when it was clear he stood and briskly carried them both across. No one taught him this. He knew what danger was, and he knew what loyalty was. These are the things that matter to a dog.

A few more blocks got them to the Salvation Army, and the long line outside. The sun was just beginning to become hot as they shuffled inside, almost wordlessly. Rita and Amador made their way to the door carefully, knowing their ruse had to work perfectly to score some kind of breakfast. Just inside, there was someone new – a blond smallish man with great teeth and a clean denim shirt. He didn’t recognize Rita, but she pretended to not notice.

“You can’t bring him in here!”
“Excuse me?”
“You can’t bring … oh, are you blind?”
“What does it look like?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize he was a companion animal.”
“He’s a dog. His name is Amador.”
“I’m sorry, is there anything we can do to help?”
“I’m here for breakfast, if that’s OK.”
“Sure, come on in. Let me help you find a table.”

Rita let herself be lead, more out of a wish to have the embarrassing moment end than anything else. She hated do-gooders, and hated the way they used language. Some days, it was enough to get what she needed; other days, a fiery defiance bubbled out of her. Today, the fight wasn’t worth more than a few casual words that concealed a melting sarcasm. She followed to the end of a long table, and tried hard not to smile when the man came back with a plastic plate of eggs and toast and a cup of coffee.

“Here you are, let me know if you need anything else.”
“Can you … could you please bring another plate for him.” Rita said coyly.
“For the dog?”
“For Amador, yes. He is hungry, too.”
“Um … OK, sure. I’ll … I’ll be back.”

So perhaps this was a day for a little fight. Rita could not help but smile as she muttered under her breath, “La culpabilidad le matará.” “Guilt will kill you.”

The doggy plate slid onto the floor, and with a quick “Thank you” that was all that. Amador waited for instructions, staring at Rita. His loyalty was strong enough to give away the game, so she had to act quickly and discreetly. “Go on.” That was enough, and soon his plate was licked clean of eggs. Rita took longer to savor the moment, even enjoying the day-old bread that came from the racks stacked along the side of the big gymnasium. It was her own secret that she could look around and take this all in, and she did it with the kind of joy that comes only from getting away with something.

The room was full of about 120 people, nearly all men. Most looked old, but could have been younger. No one appeared to be talking, but there was a steady hum of noise that bounced off of the painted cinder-block walls and thickened the air already heavy with breath and sweat. The texture of the moment made Rita feel more isolated than she was in the woods. The force of being so apart beyond her own choosing was frightening, and she started to carefully scan the room for someone she knew.

Before she could focus through her dark glasses, a man came out through the fog.

“Rita! Good to see you. Are you well?”
“Bob! How is it going?” Rita assumed a voice was enough for recognition to anyone watching them.
“Not bad, just finished the morning rush.”
“You still doing sign time?”
“Yeah, it works for me. Got $7.50 just this morning.”
“That’s great!” Sign time was the lowest form of panhandling, and the thought of someone as intelligent as Bob asking for pity as a veteran bothered her. But he made his own choices, and it wasn’t her place to judge him for it as other people in the room must.
“So you still writing? I hear there’s some group got a grant to do some publishing. They want works by homeless and so on, you’d be a natural.”
“Where are they?”
“Over in Lowertown, I think on Prince. I think it’s ‘Street Action Workshop’ or something like that they go by.”
“I’ll check it out, thanks Bob.”

Rita didn’t think she would bother to check it out, since the idea of selling her work for money wasn’t why she did it in the first place. Her body might live in public space, but her mind didn’t. But she appreciated that Bob was looking out for her, even if he did seem a bit preoccupied with making money any way he could. She almost asked him why he didn’t just get a job somewhere, but that seemed terribly rude. It was bad enough that everyone else shunned him for being a ‘signer’.

“You on your way anywhere right now, Rita?”
“No, just another day. You?”
“I dunno, I’ve got some things to scout around. Hey, how’s the big guy?”

Bob reached down to pet Amador, and quickly cradled the big German Shepard behind the ears. Bob had that touch which a dog trusted, and Amador lay on his side begging for more. The cool floor made him wiggle like a puppy as Bob rubbed the big dog’s belly, and both were obviously enjoying this stolen moment of peace in the middle of the noise.

Eventually, Rita felt a need to move on. She had no idea where this came from, but it was deep in her guts. She did such a terrible job taking care of her body, and she knew it, but all the same she listened to it. Her body was a part of the reality around her, and that was subject to betrayal. Yet the world was something that simply had to be dealt with, and that’s where Amador helped out. Seeing him sprawled out on the floor enjoying the moment was both warming and somehow alarming.

“I think we need to move on now, Bob. Good to see you.”
“Oh, good to see you, Rita. I’ll let you know if I find out anything more about that poetry thing.”
“Sounds good. You take care. Come on, Amador!”

Rita reached down to get her Amador’s plate, and stacked it with her own. She didn’t care if anyone saw her behavior now, since it was time to leave. The game was over, even if it had to be played another day. Time to move on meant a lot to her. With a jerk of the leash Amador led them both to the big garbage can, since he knew the routine very well. In a flash, they were outside in the bright light, where the shades protected her more than hid her.

They walked down West Seventh, crossing at Walnut back to the other side. Rita wanted to find the Mississippi River today, and spend some time by it. The thought simply occurred to her while walking and stayed with her. Why not follow that impulse? Rita and Amador needed the walk. It felt good to keep moving, especially at a dog’s loping pace.

The walk up to Kellogg and over through the concrete world almost made her change her mind. The cold, dark tunnels of buildings seemed to carry a threat more than offer protection, in case there was a difference between the two. Wind pushed Rita and Amador along, hurrying them to something beyond. Smokers lined the sidewalks as if guard soldiers watching the entrance to the buildings, silently telling them to keep moving. But just beyond, the brick gave way to sunlight and stillness. When Rita and Amador reached Wabasha Bridge it seemed like it was time to stop walking.

The old jail was perched strangely at the lower part of the corner, abandoned and waiting some kind of official determination of its fate. But on the top, at street level, the public park was still inviting, even if the tables slacked over at worn angles. The Mississippi was as big as the sky, the wind dancing up small waves as a crowd of buildings mingled along the edges waiting their turn. This was a place in the middle but on the edge, a place inside and yet outside itself. It suited Rita perfectly.

The pair made their way to a somewhat more level table, and let their journey fall from under them. Amador found a slightly more shady place, but Rita was happiest in the sun. She sat a moment before slipping her pack onto the table, and then stared hard out at the landscape. Not a word came from her as she absorbed the sun and water in front of her.

Even with shades on, the reflection of sun off of water gradually become blinding. Small waves only made it dazzling, almost compelling to be in pain from it. Rita sat still for what felt like hours, and eventually pulled a notebook and pen from her pack. They sat in front of her, as if absorbing the moment for her, as she stared.

Suddenly, with a rough ferocity, she opened the notebook and started to write. Scribbling at first, crossing out as much as she wrote, she gradually felt a few words deserved to stay. When the page was full, the notebook flipped over and the process started again. Each blank page had to absorb the moment on its own before it was a suitable canvas for her.

Finally, a page was turned and the words came easily. The performance part of her day was over. Something came out just so. On that page, she wrote;

“The sun calls us
and makes the rivers flow,
and the migrants move with the seasons.
It is compelling enough to blind us.
The heart sees everything
from its own dark recesses.”

It wasn’t her best work, but it suited her for the moment. Perhaps one day she would make it better, perhaps it would just stay in the darkness of her notebook. What mattered was that it was out of her for the moment. Why that was important escaped her, but that was another topic for a shadier place.

The two of them sat still through the day. Rita scribbled some more in her notebook, but nothing else ever got to the point where it deserved a page of its own. A few people came and went, but all of them decided Rita was best ignored. Gradually, the sun rose high and crested, suggesting another day was passing. Rita realized that Amador would need a drink, and frankly she did, too. Kellogg Park was a good place for both of them to get the water they needed, and it was right across the street. The notebook and pen slid into the front pocket of her pack, which was slung on her shoulder, and she was ready.

“Come on, Amador. Vamonos!” Amador jumped to attention and understood immediately it was time to move. He was quickly out in front and acting as a guide. In a quick moment, they were stopped at the corner. They stood there for quite a while, Amador waiting for the stream of cars to stop.

While they waited, a man came up in a grey suit that seemed out of place in the sun, and a bright green tie that seemed to only casually acknowledge it was summer. He was tall, and his hair thinning to a wisp of brown that gave away no age. He studied Rita for a moment, and suddenly talked to her with words that grabbed her by surprise.

“Excuse me, Miss? Can I help you here?”
Rita shuddered a moment, but quickly regained her instinctive composure.
“No, I’m fine, I can get across with my dog.”
“Are you allright?”
“What, me? I’m fine, thank you. I can get across.”
“No, it’s just that … well, you have a place to stay?”
Rita didn’t realize that she genuinely looked homeless until now, and the thought embarrassed her. She made a point to clean up in the fountain when she got out of this awkward situation.
“I can take care of myself, thank you.” She sounded more angry than she was.
“Look, I don’t mean to intrude, but the Lighthouse for the Blind has places to stay and a lot of services. Can you get to Minneapolis?”
“I don’t want your pity.”
The man reached in his coat and took out his wallet. He fumbled a moment before settling on something.
“All I have is a ten. You take it, and I can get you a cab, allright?”

This was a bit more of a struggle than Rita was ready for. It was time to assert herself, and put a big wedge into this conversation. She pulled off her shades with the hand that was not tight on Amador’s leash.
“Listen, I’m not blind, OK? I can get by on my own.”
The man’s head jerked back in surprise, opening up a space between Rita and him. A silence filled that space, just for a moment that seemed to take forever. Rita knew it was her chance to pull away, but her path was blocked by the cars still passing by and perhaps a little bit of fight. Besides, the man was not going to let up.

“OK, if you’re sure you don’t need help. I can imagine it’s hard to take care of a dog along with yourself on the street.”
“He takes care of me, not the other way round.”
“What do you do out here?”
Rita had to ditch this guy, which might mean she had to take his money. Ten wasn’t a bad price for a little humiliation, but she had to fight for her dignity all the same.
“Mister, I live out here because I want to, OK? I’ve got no rent or any of that other stuff, and I can … we can live as we please.”
“What do you do with your time?”
Rita just couldn’t get out, but the light was about to change. Hell, this guy would probably follow her, she figured. Let’s get this over with.
“I am a poet.”
“I’ll give you $10 for a poem then.”
“Fine.”

With one movement, Rita slid her pack back off of her and onto the ground. Amador was confused by all of this, and stood at attention as if ready to attack the man. Rita’s cool look told him to not bother. In a flash, the notebook was out and opened to the page that had been carefully written earlier in the day. An exasperated rip cut the air and the page was presented to the man as if it was a summons.

“Not bad,” he said, as he handed over the ten. “You ever get published?”
“I don’t sell my work. It’s mine.”
“Are you saying I have a unique honor?”
“Yes, you do. Thank you for the money.”
“You take care of yourself … I didn’t get your name.”

Rita thought for a moment, not sure if she wanted to tell him her name. The sunlight was blinding her a bit, and the trees of the park across the street were starting to seem very far away.

“My name is Rita. That should be enough, right?”
“Thank you, Rita. You take care, OK?”
“I do.”

With that, her notebook went back into her pack and on her back. The man had been trying to cross the same way Rita and Amador were about to, but decided to retreat the other way and end the moment. Rita appreciated this last gesture of kindness more than the others. She slipped the ten into a pocket and went back to the patient art of crossing the street.

After they finally made their way across to the park, both Rita and Amador stopped at the fountain and squatted down. Rita splashed some water on her face while Amador took a long, sloppy drink. They were alone again, and that’s what they liked best. It was quiet and cool by the fountain, and very few people were around. The park was theirs.

Rita found herself not capable of enjoying the moment as much as she hoped. That money, her first real money in weeks, sat in her pocket much heavier than a piece of paper should. She thought about her appearance, but mostly it occurred to her that another pen and maybe a notebook, and certainly some dog food, were all possibilities now. It seemed like she could make something of this, after all.

“C’mon, Amador, let’s go shopping,” she called, and in a moment Amador followed in the lead. It was a long walk that took them back where they came from, back pas the Sal towards the safe woods on the hill. Along the walk, Rita couldn’t help but think how she was constantly in motion, but somehow always back where she started. That was how her days went. The sun was bright and cheerful, but slowly wore on them as they made their way down West Seventh.

After an hour, they arrived at Cooper’s Supermarket. Rita had been here the last time she had money, and remembered that they had everything she could think she might need. As she approached the door, she became aware of her need to keep her shades up and follow Amador’s lead carefully.

The door pulled easily, and a cool wave of darkness came over the pair. Through the inner door and into the store, Rita followed Amador as best she could. It suddenly dawned on her how hard this would be to fake. As she stood there a moment, a woman in a white shirt with carefully pulled back hair came up to her.

“May I help you?”
“No, I’m fine. Thank you.”
The woman leaned over as if telling a secret. “Look, we know you, and your dog isn’t welcome in this store, OK? If you need to shop here, you have to leave him outside.”
“No, I need him, he’s my …”
“We know you aren’t blind, Miss. Please take the dog outside.”
“Look, he’s not any bother to anyone,”
“Please, we don’t want to throw you out. People like you are welcome if you don’t cause any fuss, OK?”
“I don’t cause any problems!” Rita’s voice was raised above anything being a secret now.
“I’m not saying you do, but the dog has to stay outside, OK?”
“I can’t leave him out there!”
“Please don’t make me call the police.”
“I can’t leave … look, I just need a few things, I have money!” Rita pulled out the ten, ,now limp with sweat.
“Miss, please, we can’t have the dog. I don’t want to have to call the police.”
“No, I just …”
“Please?” The woman was polite, but very emphatic.

With a heavy sigh, Rita knew she was beaten. The game didn’t work here, at least not anymore. And she was not going to tie Amador up outside, no matter what they said. Shopping simply wasn’t going to happen.

“OK, I’ll leave. C’mon, Amador.” With that, Rita turned to the exit door, and leaned on it with a shove of frustration. The embarrassment of the situation was giving way to anger, and the bright sunshine of the outside burned red through her shades. She got through the door and into the glare, not able to see well for a moment. When her vision cleared, she saw two figures in blue coming right at her. Someone had called the police.

“Miss, is everything allright here?” The taller of the two cops spoke very directly to Rita. The tone of it splashed into her simmering anger and made it boil over for a moment. Something inside of her melted as the words sputtered out.
“No, it’s not allright!”
“Miss, please, let’s just leave the premises. There’s no need to cause …”
“I’m leaving! I’m not causing anything!”
The other cop finally spoke, with a tone that was very in control, “Take it easy now.”

Through all of this, Rita had not been paying any attention to Amador. She wasn’t minding his leash, and she didn’t notice how he responded to her anger.

It was the flash of dark fur that caught her eye, even before she realized it was Amador. His teeth were bared full, and his bark split the moment in half. The force of this once placid dog suddenly lunging pulled Rita forward, and sent the cops backwards as fast as they could move. In a fluid, practiced moment, the second cop’s gun was out and raw fear aimed the sights directly at Amador’s eyes. Rita realized what was about to happen, and pulled the leash hard. Another sharp, threatening bark made her realize that this would not be enough, and she leaped on top of Amador, throwing him to the ground. Any bullet would have to pass through her first. Her heart pounded, waiting to be cut open into the light of day.

And then, nothing happened.

A short breath later, the danger was over. Amador was still and silent, as if the gun had been fired. But it hadn’t been. There, on the hot pavement, he lay as still as Rita commanded, understanding perfectly that now was not the time to do a thing. He depended on her completely, and she only asked one thing through heavy sobs.

“Please … please don’t … don’t hurt him!” Tears started to moisten Amador’s fur. “He’s all I have! Please don’t hurt him!”.

The cops had moved back several paces from the scene. It was clear that the dangerous looking dog was not a threat, but they had no idea what to do about the situation. The one who spoke first finally understood there was only one thing they could do, as the other put away his gun.

“Miss, are you OK?
“Uh-huh. Don’t hurt him, please!”

The cop came over slowly, and knelt down beside her, suddenly very unafraid of the large dog.

“We won’t hurt anyone. If you leave, we’ll just act like this never happened, OK?”
“You won’t take him away?”
“No … look, I don’t want to take your dog, OK? Let’s just end this.”
“OK.”

Rita slowly got up, her eyes now red with tears. She sniffled slowly as Amador got up, not sure what he had to do. His tail was between his legs, and he hunkered down with the weight of trouble on his long back. He wasn’t going to do a thing he wasn’t told to do.

“C’mon, Amador! Good boy!” Rita pulled him down the sidewalk trying hard not to cry. It wasn’t working, and Amador stayed close to her out of concern. It wasn’t far to the hill, and Rita didn’t care who saw her and how much they realized she could see them. She wanted to find the woods and stay there, safe in the cool darkness.

At the top of the hill, Rita pulled out her blanket and sat down on it. Once Amador came and lay down on top of her, she simply could not stop crying. Hours passed, watching the shadow of the hill grow longer, as she stroked Amador and cried herself out. Even as darkness fell, they sat there together in loving embrace. Rita was not one to use words with Amador, since that’s not the dog way of talking, but she did tell him one thing over and over:

“I will take care of you, Amador. No matter what. You are all I have.”

As the night passed and the drunks and druggies staggered by in the light from the power plant, the two became sleepy. It was about midnight when a figure came directly toward them, glowing with light.

“Rita? Rita, are you up here?” It was Jim O’Donnell again. Rita thought about not saying a word, just simply hiding. But something in her called back.
“I am here.”
“There you are. How are you doing tonight, Rita?”
“Not too bad” Rita lied badly.
“Would you like something to eat?”
“Sure,” Rita suddenly realized just how hungry she was. Jim brought out a sandwich, the same turkey on wheat that Rita took before. “Thanks,” was all she could offer in return. Rita was about to throw half of it to Amador, when Jim interrupted her.
“That won’t be necessary. I brought something for him. It’s a … lamb and rice, supposed to be good for his coat.” And he produced a large red bag he had apparently been carrying all this way.

Rita didn’t know what to say for a moment. Jim stood there holding out the bag, framed completely in light. It wasn’t until Rita noticed that he was casting a shadow her direction that she felt her nearly wounded heart throb a few words out of her mouth.

“Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

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